Once in a Lifetime Experience…

Report From International Intern, Maddy Ballard

I’m sad to say that I have finished my internship, it’s gone by so quickly. Working with the Elephants and Bee’s team has been a once in a lifetime experience, not to mention the elephant collaring with STE and KWS—which was really more exciting than I could have ever imagined. Kenya is amazing and I’ve made so many new friends, thank you so much for this experience.
This week has been especially busy; greeting new interns and introducing them to project life as well as tracking the exciting movements of the several crop raids by elephants we have experienced in the past few days.
I was also kept busy with my usual project work of camera trap monitoring, where we were lucky to find some fantastic shots of elephants crop raiding at Nashon and Granton’s farm. Such good images are a rarity! A great deal of my time was also spent on the class room mural at the school, we have painted a map of the world that we hope will benefit the children and future interns enabling them to conduct interactive classes. We are so close to finishing, and so far so good! I think it looks like a patch work quilt of countries all pieced together.

Essential tools for hive harvesting

Essential tools for hive harvesting

I cannot believe that my 2 month internship is over already, it feels like I arrived just yesterday. Time runs differently in Africa…
When I arrived in February, I had little beekeeping experience and was terrified of being stung. I was confident in my field data collection abilities, but took extra precautions around the hives. I made sure I  always wore long sleeves, long denim pants, and a bee head net when walking around the beehive fences. And during our night work which is when we open up the occupied hives, I would keep back a bit for fear of bees getting into my bee suit and stinging my face.
It’s a very different experience, being surrounded by bees angrily smacking against you in the dark as you disturb their home. The first time I encountered an aggressive colony, I took a moment to take a breath and just listen to the bees swarming around me. It sounded like rain pattering down on my head—an almost relaxing sound. As time and experience wore on, I edged closer and closer to the hive, fascination taking the place of fear.

Me holding a super box ()

Me holding a super box

Now I find myself enjoying night work. I look forward to pulling on my white plastic suit, heavy boots, and thick rubber gloves. It’s hot with all the layers, but at least I know I’m protected. These last few weeks, because of limited hands, I have been an integral part in night work. From opening up the hive and counting the bars of comb, to placing additional “super boxes” on top and making sure it is secure, I’m literally working inside each hive. Adding super boxes to prospering and mature hives runs like clock work. My night work buddy, Emmanuel and I hardly have to speak to one another because we understand what has to be done and when. We work quickly and skillfully and superboxing three to four hives a night is not too strenuous between the two of us.
This close connection, trust and utter reliance on a fellow worker is what I will miss most about this experience. Living and working alongside people at the Elephants and Bees camp, it’s impossible to not form friendships that will last a lifetime. You experience it all together – the good, the bad… Yes, bees did get into my bee suit one night and sting my face. However with the support of friends and colleagues, I was able to grow from the experience and build confidence in myself. By the end, I was no longer afraid of bees. And that sting was my first, and last.

Thank you so much Elephants and Bees research team! You are amazing and you have made my time with you here in Kenya, amazing. Your kindness and warmth I will remember forever.



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